Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006


Frances Cella, 83, ran former Mona Lisa restaurant

Frances Cella, who with her late husband, Mario, ran Mona Lisa, a family restaurant founded by her father on MacDougal St. where Villa Mosconi is now located, died Tues. March 28 in Danbury, Conn., a week before her 83rd birthday.

She moved to Connecticut in 2004 from her MacDougal St. apartment above the restaurant where she had lived for about 60 years to be near her daughter, Lisa Sohonyay.

Lisa and her sister, Marissa Peters, of San Francisco, Cal., told The Villager about their mother’s life in a community within a community of Village Italian restaurant families who all knew each other, ate in each others’ places and spent summer vacations together at Sedrini Lodge in E. Durham, N.Y., in the Catskills.

Frances Cella’s father, Dominic Miletich, born in an Italian-speaking region in the Austrian empire, founded the restaurant. He was a merchant seaman who also worked as a New York City cab driver and a restaurant waiter.

“He met my grandmother, Rose Fugazzi, while he was waiting at Mario’s on Carmine St.,” Marissa recalled. Dominic opened the first Mona Lisa on 54th St. near Fifth Ave. followed by the MacDougal St. restaurant in the 1940s.

Frances and a brother, John, who died in 1964, were both born in the Village.

“My mother met my dad in the early 1940s [during World War II] when he was in a prisoner of war camp in Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn,” Marissa said. Frances had gone to Ft. Hamilton to visit her mother’s relatives who also had been in the Italian army and were POWs. “My dad was in the Italian army in Africa when he was taken into Rommel’s army but he escaped and was captured again in Ethiopia by the Americans, who sent him to Brooklyn,” Marissa said.

At the end of the war Mario was sent back to Italy. “He was really a farm boy from a little mountain town a couple of hours north of Genoa,” Marissa said. Frances followed Mario and the couple married in Italy.

“Actually my grandmother Rose’s family was from the same region and my dad’s and mother’s grandmothers were best friends,” Marissa said.

Frances and Mario returned to the Village and the whole family worked at Mona Lisa. “My dad was the bartender, mom did the books and ran the pantry, Nona Rose and Uncle John were in the kitchen and my grandfather did everything else,” Marissa said.

Dominic Miletich died in 1961 leaving Frances and Mario to run the restaurant. They sold the business in 1968 to Vico and Ethel Migliorini but kept ownership of the building, where their apartment was located. The Migliorini family ran Mona Lisa until 1976 when they sold it to the family that runs Villa Mosconi. “They also wanted to buy the building, so Mom and Dad sold it with the understanding that they would stay in the apartment as long as they wanted to,” Marissa said.

“Even after they sold the restaurant they still worked. My dad was the bartender at La Scala on 54th St. and mom worked as an underwriter for an insurance company — she was a very bright woman,” said Marissa.

Mario Cella died in 1988 and Rose Miletich died in 1989. “My mother would go to the Senior Center at Our Lady of Pompei every day and went on all the trips, but she became very frail the last two years,” said Lisa.

In addition to Melissa and Lisa, four grandchildren survive.

Perazzo Funeral Home, 199 Bleecker St., was in charge of arrangements. The viewing will be from 3 p.m.-8 p.m. Thurs. March 30 and the funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Fri. March 31 at Our Lady of Pompei Church on Carmine and Bleecker Sts. Burial will be in Cavalry Cemetery in Queens.

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